No question about it, Home Rule is a major change, and one that can lead to some pretty serious consequences after it is adopted.
We put together a list of the top five reasons you should oppose Home Rule.
- NEW TAXES AND FEES
Home Rule proponents argue that this isn’t really an issue, but the truth is under a Home Rule charter a City can create any tax that is not “related to the state lottery; similar to a tax which provides revenues to the state; or similar to state licensing or regulatory fees enacted by statute or adopted by rule.” See South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) § 6-12-14
In other words, if it’s a brand-new tax or fee that isn’t prohibited by state law or an existing state tax or fee, they can start it all they want. For example, after adopting Home Rule, Aberdeen enacted weight limits on vehicles with up to a $500 fine and required permits for operating any “overweight vehicles.” See Aberdeen Muni. Code Art IX
And there is nothing stopping cities that adopt Home Rule from increasing existing fees, more quickly and with less citizen oversight. Our guess is that after repeatedly trying to create new fees and increase old ones, Mayor Allender will try and jack-up those rates once more, but this time only has to have one reading to do it. “Council set to vote on fee increases for variety of services,” Samuel Blackstone, Rapid City Journal, Dec. 17, 2018.
That leads us to reason #2 to oppose Home Rule – the ability under Home Rule to ram through new laws and acts.
- RAMMING THROUGH NEW LAWS
One of the things that Home Rule charter communities can do, and often do, is change the requirements for passing Ordinances, Resolutions and other official acts by reducing it from the two required readings to one. In fact, the proponents of the Rapid City Home Rule Charter talk about it openly as a benefit on their $4,400 taxpayer-funded website when they say:
“A Home Rule government would allow the City to respond faster in times of crisis (example COVID – two readings of an emergency ordinance were required before new measures could be implemented). While it is important to take time to review matters and laws going into effect, it is also important to be able to act quickly in a crisis such as COVID-19.”
One such example is the City of Brookings on March 23rd with a one reading passage of a mask mandate and business shutdown during the COVID-19 period. “Brookings City Council Passes Ordinances Closing Some Businesses, Restricting Others,” Brookings Radio, Mar. 23, 2020
Whereas the City of Rapid City is not a Home Rule charter, and ultimately defeated a mask mandate on the second reading. “Rapid City Council votes 6-5 to table second attempt at a mask ordinance,” Rapid City Journal. Dec. 7, 2020.
Overall, a Home Rule Charter incentivizes local governments to engage in more backroom or last-minute decisions where the citizens have less say in what goes on. Which leads us to reason #3 to oppose Home Rule, and that’s all the backroom deals.
- BACKROOM DEALS
Behind closed door decisions seems to be a problem for a number of Home Rule Charter communities, and for the City of Rapid City in drafting their Home Rule Charter.
In fact, 1 out of every 4 (27%) Home Rule Charter Communities have been reprimanded by the South Dakota Attorney General’s Open Meetings Commission for violations of open meetings laws for making decisions behind closed doors or flat-out holding secret “special” meetings without notifying the public so they could make decisions outside of the public’s view.
Just this last year, the Home Rule City of Pierre was reprimanded for failing to post notice of a meeting to discuss Mayoral qualifications – and eliminated a potential candidate from running. OMC 2020-04 Sioux Falls was reprimanded for making decisions in executive session – literally voting on matters behind closed doors. OMC 2012-01 Before that, the City of Aberdeen was reprimanded for failing to notify the public of a “special” meeting they held. OMC 2011-06 & 07 And finally, again, the City of Sioux Falls Ethics Board, no joke here, was reprimanded for making another decision behind closed doors. OMC 10-03
And the City of Rapid City has been no exception to this backroom trend. Even though Mayor Allender promised transparency with the Home Rule Charter process, saying that they “[wouldn’t] be making any changes here in a backroom of City Hall,” (Elevate Government Affairs Connection ft. Mayor Allender, Sept. 3, 2020), unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s been going on for months. Neither the City nor the Rapid City Home Rule Charter Committee has held any public forums, allowed any public attendance to the committee meetings, or had any form of public or representative oversight as they’ve contemplated changing our entire form of government. That’s why People’s Rule spokesperson Jordan Mason recently filed an Open Meetings complaint with the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office to try and force this out in the open – so the people can decide what’s best for them.
Which leads us to reason #4, most Home Rule communities have a lack of accountability in the management of their cities.
- LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
While this particular point doesn’t apply to all Home Rule communities, it does apply to over half (54.5%) of all the Home Rule communities in South Dakota and specifically applies to what Mayor Allender has proposed for Rapid City – which is a City Manager.
A City Manager is a professional who manages the day-to-day affairs of a municipality, with power over City officers and employees;” (SDCL § 9-10-9) control over the budget and money; (SDCL § 9-10-15(5) & (8)); our elected representatives interaction with the City; (SDCL § 9-10-16) and can even “have such further powers and duties as may be prescribed.” (SDCL § 9-10-15 (10))
And on top of all that, instead of being elected by the people, they’re hired by contract by the politicians currently in office. (SDCL § 9-10-10)
Because of that, when City Managers are bad – they can be nearly impossible to get rid of.
In fact, even after being publicly indicted for fraud, the Sturgis City Manager wasn’t removed from office – it wasn’t until he resigned after being convicted did he leave. (“Sturgis city manager convicted of felony, resigns,” Black Hills Pioneer. Apr. 22, 2011)
But often, Cities have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of their City Managers, due to sweet, golden-parachute-type severance packages that are built into their contracts. In fact, in the small Texas town of Bastrop, which has a population of 7,218 people, the City had to pay $122,721.80 and cover the former City Manager and her dependents’ health insurance benefits for up to a year – all a part of a pre-negotiated severance deal. (“Bastrop to pay former city manager $123k in severance deal,” S News Network, Feb. 4, 2020) In Milpitas, California, a city about the size of Rapid City, ultimately paid $200,000 to remove their City Manager. (“Milpitas pays $200,000 severance in latest city manager exit,” Joseph Geha, Bay Area News Group. Jul. 2, 2019.)
Which leads us to our final point and reason #5 to oppose Rapid City Home, City Managers and a Home Rule style of government can be extremely costly.
Not only are City Managers extremely costly, up-front and over the long-term, but Home Rule communities tend to cost more for their citizens overall.
One of the major problems of the large severance packages offered to City Managers, is that City Managers on average only stay three to five years in a City. (“Survival for city managers: Be an expert but don’t raise political hackles,” John Rehfuss, Public Administration as Political Process. Jul. 1976 Issue 3.)
And City Managers essentially give you double the cost, for double the problems. That is to say, City Managers don’t replace Mayors, technically, it’s just more chefs in the kitchen. While City Managers take over all the normal duties of a Mayor, and perform the work of a Mayor with less of the oversight of the Council and their citizens, the citizens still end up paying a Mayor and a City Manager for the same work to be done. (SDCL § 9-10-7)
Finally coming around full circle to our first point, Home Rule communities are notorious for trying to pass new taxes, new fees, and create new laws that raise the cost of living.
In fact, the South Dakota legislature has had to intervene twice to overrule the City of Sioux Falls in their pursuit to overtax their citizens. After Sioux Falls adopted their Home Rule Charter in 1994, the Sioux Falls City Council passed an ordinance creating permit and inspection fees, that extended beyond the actual cost of the inspection, and included property owned by the government. This led to the legislature passing SB 125 prohibiting such actions. The City of Sioux Falls took the matter to court, and ultimately won, preserving their new found “fee” to generate new revenue. Then the City of Sioux Falls passed the “fourth penny” sales tax to fund a visitor and convention bureau, leading to the legislature to pass HB 1291 in 1996. (“Home Rule in South Dakota – An Update,” South Dakota Legislative Research Council, Issue Memorandum 96-1.)
And that’s our list of the Top 5 Reasons to Oppose Home Rule.